Football fans in India, especially those in Bengaluru would remember Ashley Westwood as someone who took a novice club to the pinnacle of Indian football. He led them to win three titles in as many seasons, won the Best coach of the year gong as well and was known to be a strict disciplinarian.
This time around, a club, namely ATK, at the pinnacle of the Indian Super League (ISL) has been brought down to tatters with Westwood being involved as a Technical Director and then the interim coach.
Sandwiched in between was a stint at Malaysia’s Penang FA where he suffered six defeats and two draws before the two parties decided to go separate ways. Westwood claimed that the players’ weren’t fit and that they were taking more time to adapt.
“I did get the six weeks, but that was all the time I had, really. On day two, we tested for fitness and honestly, I was surprised by how far behind the players were. The six weeks should have been twelve, really. So we didn’t have enough time to get the players to where they needed to be.”
At ATK, Westwood was given a chance to build a team as the club wasn’t working with Atletico Madrid anymore. At the ISL player draft, their first two picks were Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jayesh Rane. Fair choices as Lyngdoh is among the best midfielders, if not the best anymore given his form last season, and Rane played an important role in Aizawl FC’s I-League triumph.
His next pick was Keegan Pereira, a left back who wasn’t in the best forms. In the 2016-17 season, he had amassed a total of only 510 minutes in the I-League and ISL. Next was Shankar Sampingiraj who had 21 minutes in the I-League. Thereafter, Westwood picked Anwar Ali, who had a good campaign with Mumbai City FC but struggled for minutes at East Bengal. He was admitted to hospital last year after a training session with a cardiac problem.
Hitesh Sharma is among the talented players and was one of the good picks in the draft. Robin Singh too had come off a decent stint at East Bengal but has struggled for minutes at ATK. Westwood's decision to opt for players he has worked with in the past with a blatant disregard for form has come back to haunt him.
“Pre-season is your key work. That's where you put all your rules and regulations, put all your disciplines and fitness regimes in place. To come in and not being able to effect that at this part of the season is the reason why you don't always get the results you're after," Westwood said after their humiliating 5-1 defeat in Goa.
Why wasn’t this statement made earlier? Why shift the blame on Teddy Sheringham now? Why take up the job when you know you aren’t able to change much at this point in the season?
Yes, you can blame Sheringham for the club’s failures but let’s not forget that the club got 12 points from 10 matches with most games being on the road. Under Westwood, the Kolkata franchise’s performance has dipped and gone further south. They have six defeats and one draw in his tenure, something similar to the Penang stint.
The blame also lies with the club management who have made a mockery of themselves. From claiming that they are the biggest club in Kolkata to seeing the number of fans attending their games go down massively, the club has also sacked two coaches. Bombastic statements, sacking coaches was something associated with the traditional clubs.
Now the question is how is ATK bigger and better? They are a study on how to mess up a winning formula. The owners are equally responsible for the downfall.
Westwood’s name was being suggested as the next Indian national team coach. Probably, the English coach needs to at least have a couple more success stories before the All India Football Federation (AIFF) must even consider his name.